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The Good and the Bad of House Sitting

by Nicole Connolly

House sitting has been around for many years but it’s only recently become a popular method for travelers, especially long-term travelers.

What is it? It’s an exchange of services for free accommodation. The house sitter looks after the home and pets while the homeowner is away. The homeowner allows the sitter to live rent-free in their house as way of payment for their services.

So in a nutshell the sitter keeps the house clean, feeds and loves the pets, brings the mail in and puts the bins out in exchange for free accommodation. No catch! No wonder it’s becoming such a popular way to travel.

The benefits of house sitting are numerous.

Free accommodation
Accommodation can be one of, if not the most expensive part of your trip. Those costs can be reduced to nil with house sitting. You could have a cheaper vacation, visit parts of the world you didn’t think you could afford or for a long-term traveler, this means being able to stay on the road for more time.

Live like a local
When you housesit you have the opportunity to live as a local instead of being a ‘tourist’. You get to know the neighbors and those local hangouts that may not be in your travel guides. And you get to see the ‘real’ city. Don’t worry though, just because you are house sitting doesn’t mean you can’t do the touristy things. It's just that you get to see the city from a local’s perspective.

Have more space
This is particularly relevant to the long-term traveler. Living in the confined space of a hotel or hostel room is fine for short periods of time but after a while you can feel rather claustrophobic. In a house, you'll be able to spread out as much as you want.

Live in style
Living in a million-dollar house on an island; a beachside property with a swimming pool set in a tropical garden; a house in the hills with an endless view of the stars while soaking in the hot tub. I don’t know about you, but this is the norm for us when house sitting. To be able to live in this kind of luxury while still ‘budget traveling’ sure beats the hell out of hostel living!

Eat cheaply
There are ways to eat on the cheap when you are a budget traveler: street food, using hostel kitchens, take-away (although this one isn’t so good for your waist line!). But nothing beats doing a weekly shop at the grocery store and cooking most of your meals at home. Of course it’s nice to splurge on a meal out every now and then but you will save a lot of money cooking and eating at home, in your own well-equipped kitchen.

Home comforts
Whenever we have a few days between house sits, we stay in hotels - actually, motels would be the more appropriate word - and the two things I miss most on these occasions is a kitchen and a laundry. Whether your comfort lies in a kitchen, a laundry, a backyard or a comfortable bed, there is nothing quite like the comforts of home.

But before you get too excited, you should know there are some drawbacks to house sitting too:

Responsibilities
You are responsible for someone else’s home and pets. The homeowner has entrusted you with this responsibility and you cannot take it lightly.

Nothing is perfect
Depending on how fussy you are when choosing your assignments, you may not always get the ‘perfect’ sit. We have had assignments in very isolated areas, in rundown farm houses and with pets that are out of control. And even in these situations you still need to fulfill your duties. You won’t always find that million-dollar beach house.

Things can go wrong
Things can go wrong and this will test your ability to think on your feet. For example, a water pipe may burst or a pet may get sick. If you do not have confidence or are not quick of your feet, you may end up feeling overwhelmed if something does go wrong.

No party animals allowed
Partiers are strongly disliked by homeowners, and who can blame them. You need to keep in mind you are part of a neighborhood and are expected to behave just as the owners would. What you do will reflect on the owners of the house. It’s also not very responsible to be hung over when you need to walk the dog in the morning, not to mention the potential damage that may be done to the house by an inebriated host or guests.

That said, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Michael and I, both Australian, gave up our careers, sold our possessions and left our ‘conventional’ lives behind for a life of travel. We have been living a nomadic life for 13 months and see no end in sight.

Ed. Note: Nicole and Michael can be found on Suitcase Stories (suitcasestories.com), where they share their stories and show others that a life of travel is not only possible but affordable through house sitting.

You may also find these stories on housesitting of interest:
Starting your own housesitting business
Become a Housesitter

Comments for The Good and the Bad of House Sitting

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Jun 03, 2013
Where do I sign up?
by: Rae (@amateurvagrant)

This is awesome! My husband and I are going to start our travelling chapter in January 2014. I had been thinking about the reverse of this--getting someone to sublet our home, but I think we're just gonna sell everything. But I'd love to house sit for people! I like animals and not having pets while travelling is a big bummer for me. I'm also at the age where a quiet night in is always more appealing than an epic night at the pub. We'll have to research this more as an option.

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